Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Coach K 's Evening in Central Jakarta

Coach K insisted on shopping at the Plaza of Indonesia in Jakarta. He attempted negotiating the price of a dive watch, but 2K was too expensive for for Coach K. Come on Coach! After handling all those refs, is this the best you could do?
Coach K toyed with me in Cartier. I thought after traveling to Indonesia together, after all of our exciting adventures in Jakarta, and after a lifetime of loyalty to Duke basketball, the Coach was about to purchase me a ring! Oh Coach, what a bobbling minx you are!
The Coach settled into the Grand Hyatt in central Jakarta for high tea. After a busy day of touring, he needed some pamapering. I heard him whisper, "Bring it on!"
This was Lina's first high tea, and the the Coach's first high tea with me. The three of us dove into the pastries with abandon.Lina decided to shower Coach K with Indonesian hospitality by serving him custard. The Coach will have sweet dreams tonight!

Coach K's First Day in Jakarta

Coach K posed in front of the National Monument in Jakarta which symbolizes the independence of Indonesia. Looking good Coach!This was a big tourist day for Coach K. He visited the National Museum in Jakarta.
Whose nose looks better? Coach K's or that of Ganesha?
Now this was embarrassing. After bobbling on and on about how much he loved Indonesia, the coach jumped from my hands and into the museum's exhibits of native Indonesian habitats. I think he was real estate shopping!

The police were not pleased that the Coach had made himself at home in the National Museum. I had to do some fast talking to keep the coach out of an Indonesian jail! They had not heard of Duke University, or Blue Devil basketball, but they could tell that Coach K had a commanding presence. I informed the police that he was an important man. He bobbled in agreement and was released to explore Jakarta for the rest of the day.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Coach K's Arrival into Jakarta

The coach and I landed in Jakarta, but our bags opted to remain in Los Angeles. The coach was tired of sleeping in his suit, but convinced the airlines to fly out his luggage ASAP. Thank you coach for taking charge!
The coach finally met Cathrine, our hostess in Jakarta. He was putty in her hands. His head bobbled with enthusiasm when he was honored with a tour of her shipping warehouse.
The coach was famished and enjoyed his first traditional Indonesian dinner at Soup/Contro. He slurped up his coconut sticky rice with gusto, nearly causing me to apologize for his ravenous behavior. Our hosts were understanding. It had been a long flight, and he was hungry. The coach especially enjoyed the pork ribs which reminded him of North Carolina cuisine. Some things are universal.

Coach K Flies to Jakarta

Coach K took no time in taking charge, just like a great leader. He chatted with Alaska Airlines pilot, discussed the flight plan to Los Angeles,and put on his Chuck Yeager southern accent.

The Coach settled into the copilot's seat for the flight to Los Angeles from Seattle. Thanks Coach! You can fly with me anywhere. Since the coach was flying the plane, my new friend, Rudy, who was sitting in First Class, bought me an upgrade. Thank you Rudy! It was the first time I was paged on an airplane: "Tula Holmes- Would you gather your luggage and come up to first class!"

The coach had a hideous accent in first class on the way to LA.-he fell. Perhaps he was dropped! His left leg broke off below the knee! He is a stud, and remarked that he had all intentions of diving Bunaken , despite his new status as a special needs diver. My seat mates on the was to Taipei helped perform the needed surgery, and we taped his leg back on with a water proof band aid. I will look for glue or a prosthetic for a permanent fix while in Jakarta.
The crew of EVA AIR in Taipei was thrilled to have the famous coach on board their plane. Perhaps they didn't know who the coach was. Perhaps they had never heard of Duke University. I think they had heard of basketball. They were great sports however, and gave the coach the attention he deserves!
I was able to watch the coach in action. He charmed the flight attendants who fell over themselves to welcome K to Asia.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Coach K flies to Indonesia


Coach K went through security at Seatac Airport with no problem. The security officers were dolls! They were excited to have a celebrity going through their detection equipment. They were laughing quite heartily, but K was not amused. He may have felt the white plastic dish he rode in was a bit degrading, and looked like a toilet seat!
To K's pleasure, he met a friend at security in his little white dish. You just never know when you may meet a life long pal. Sadly, their time together was brief. The coach has many miles to go this evening, and had to say goodbye to his new BFF.
The Alaska agents were thrilled to meet the famous coach. They tried their best to upgrade him to first class, but really K, your place is in coach!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Coach K is traveling to Indonesia

Coach K begged. He wanted to join me on my trip to Indonesia. How can you refuse such a great man?. If he wants to go diving with me off of Bunaken Island, then my bobble head is wobbling in agreement. Our adventure begins on Saturday. I will tell you about the sights we see, and the wonderful people we meet along our way. Tonight K was helpful in stuffing the dive gear in the suitcase. He was jumping on my suitcase like a sumo wrestler! We can take only fifty pounds on EVA Air. EVA Air is a Taiwan based airlines, and after we leave Los Angeles, Taiwan is our first stop. I am curious to see how K enjoys flying coach! We won't arrive in Jakarta, Indonesia until Monday afternoon. I know K's little bobble head will be exhausted, but he's a trouper. Look at the championships that he has won. I know he'll be able to push through the jet lag and head out on the town for dinner with me when we arrive. Keep checking in with us to follow our adventures.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Looking Up in Lower Manhattan

I never look up when I am in New York City. Like the locals, I always look down toward the sidewalk. I expect that it is like this in most big cities. The danger for a pedestrian is down below, at foot level. If you don’t look at your feet, you may plant a sneaker into a fresh puddle of pee. It’s on every sidewalk, from the ritzy Upper Eastside, to the hip West Village, and on every corner of lower Manhattan. If you are a lucky walker, your nose will give you fair warning that a pet has been here, just before you arrived, at this lamppost, near this tree, or right on this corner of your apartment building. Yellow rivulet’s run to the curb or seep into the soil near the sparse openings in the cement where the trees try to grow. Shop owners and doormen do their best to help. They are constantly spraying the sidewalks with garden hoses. No gardens here. Just watering the pee for the tenth time of the day. The fresh water washes everything into a non-potable swirl. Good luck finding a dry inch of pavement for your pumps; a dry spot that might help prevent the spread what lies lurking beneath your soles.
And, I have yet to mentioned the poop. New Yorkers are good at picking up after their pets, but my god, so many pets live in this city! I am not talking about the dainty apartment sized pups. No, some joker down the hall marches his Alaskan Huskies out each morning to meet a host of Standard Poodles, Afghan Hounds, and yes, even Great Danes. Now, really! Your apartment is 600 square feet. 900 if you are wealthy, and you need to own the largest dog made? So as a walker, you step around dark circles on the pavement, because you know what was there a day ago. You step around ochre circles, because you know what was there just an hour ago. You have to look down. Germs and bacterial fester in the cracks of the sidewalk. You don’t want these buggers to breach your apartment by clinging to the bottom of your shoes. You know they will spread faster than this fall’s flu virus. It is essential that you always look down.
Did I mention the cracks? It is all about superstition. I don’t alter my gait to avoid walking on cracks, but if I can extend a step to miss one, then I do. I certainly don’t want to anger the gods, or break my mother’s back, even if she has been dead for fifteen years. I don’t want to be responsible for my bad karma in the afterlife. So I stretch my feet to step over those sidewalk line breaks whenever I can. Today, I dodged, and weaved, and delicately made my way to the southern end of the island to pay my respects to Ground Zero.
I walked from my son’s apartment in the West Village, down Greenwich Street toward lower Manhattan. He lives in what was originally the storage facility for the US Custom’s Service, nicknamed The Archive. It’s a striking structure made of red brick and recognizable from blocks away by its thick walls and arched windows. It no longer houses government documents. The banner on the fa├žade announces, Luxury Loft Apartments. The Archive also claims notoriety for housing Monica Lewinski. When my single son moved into this building, I told him that I hoped he would meet a nice girl, and winked. He did not laugh.
When I am in New York City, I always try to visit the World Trade Center site. Everyone has his stories. Where they were the day it happened. They list their friends that had gone to work that hideous morning and never returned. When you ask, they are happy to tell you. It floods from them in a release. The retelling becomes a relief. Their stories are better than mine. I was visiting The Big Apple during the third week of August in 2001. I was at World Trade Center standing in line to buy cheap tickets for a Broadway play. I shopped on the lower levels and talked to the sweet young clerks who showed me silk blouses and wool slacks. I can still see their faces. I hope they made it out safely. I went back to Ground Zero in the winter of 2002. I drove by the chain link fence near the site. You couldn’t get close. You couldn’t stop. I looked through the window of the cab and cried.
In 2004, I had an apartment a few blocks from the World Trade Center. My husband and I sublet it from someone who didn’t want to go back to lower Manhattan. People worried about the air quality. Memories were as painful as war flashbacks. Rents were cheap after the attack, and landlords were desperate to attract tenants. I loved living close to Ground Zero. It was holy ground- a noisy, dirty, and bustling holy ground. There was a brouhaha over how the reconstruction was to occur. For years the towers never rose. First, the damage had to be cleaned away. Above the subway entrance to Hoboken, the World Trade Center ground lay like a skin cancer waiting to be surgically removed and sutured back into the cityscape. I felt like crying every time I walked by. I would hang by the rips in the screening, trying to see what was happening behind the chain link fence. I wanted to catch a glimpse of the ramp where the dump trucks had hauled cement and body parts out of the hole that had been the World Trade Center.
Did I mention that my anniversary was on September 11? I was married for 25 years to the day that the World Trade Center came down. My marriage ended almost as spectacularly as the 9-11 attack, and I mean no disrespect here. Today, I walked down Greenwich Street to honor the people who still remain in the cement, and say a prayer for the city that suffered horribly ten years ago.
I was looking down at the sidewalk, stepping over the cracks, avoiding the pee and the dark spots that freckled the pavement, until I saw sparks falling from above. I had reached Murray Street where another old red brick building was in the process of being renovated into contemporary lofts. I tilted my head back to look up several floors. A section of wall had been removed, and I could see workers installing a curved staircase. This would be a very fancy apartment indeed, perhaps for a Wall Street analyst or a hedge fund manager. Wall Street was only a few blocks away. The welders looked as if they were holding a giant New Year’s Sparkler. The renovation was a celebration of rebirth, an old building becoming new again.
In front of me, in the space forged by Greenwich through the schools, offices, and apartments of Tribecca, beckoned the new buildings of the World Trade Center. I hurried passed the massive limestone Post Office, around orange barricades, loitering policemen, and crowds of people. I could see Tower #1 before me. I pressed forward and kept looking up. The screened fence no longer concealed a scab above the pit as before. Enormous cranes droned out a deafening tune as they turned and swayed with work. Two silver cranes grew out of the top of Tower #1 like a pair of giant antennae on tall centipede. An incomplete metal skin covered its belly, reflecting the blue clouds from above. Heaven was imprinting itself on the surface of this new structure. The banner on the fence proclaimed that one day 500,000 square feet of retail space would be opened. Thirteen subway lines would merge below the ground. The new World Trade Center would become a hub of activity again. I felt hope in the simple act of looking up.
Tower #1 is half way to its full height. Men in orange vests and white hard hats, tourist in jeans, and businessmen in dark pinstriped suits walk along the chain link fence. They may not realize it, but they are waiting for the day when the World Trade Center is back. In the face of complete devastation, there is hope in knowing that those towers will shine in the sun and reflect the sky. They will reflect hope for all who pause below and remember how far the construction has come. How far we have all come. Now, all we need to do is look up, and wait

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Heart of the Jaguar

Everyone told me I was crazy to want to go to Mexico. Didn’t I read the newspapers? Mexico was under siege. Tourists had been abducted in Acapulco by drug lords. Bodies dangled like earrings from bridges above the freeways, or so they said. When I confessed my fears to my friend, Jean, she laughed. Jean and her husband, Brian, had invited me to join them for a long weekend at their condo in Playa del Carmen, in the Yucatan Peninsula.
“You’re not going to be kidnapped by drug lords,” said Jean.
“Maybe not,” I said, “But I heard that body parts are strewn all along the freeway south of Cancun. Heads, arms, feet. Jez Jean, that’s pretty frightening.”
“The real danger is in Acapulco, and that’s on the other side of the country. If you aren’t dealing drugs, you don’t need to worry. In Playa, I never worry.”
I felt compelled to respond, just in case there were drug lords listening, “I don’t do drugs, Jean.”
“Well, that’s a relief. You can bunk in with Brian’s mom. She doesn’t do drugs either. You’ll be perfect roommates. You're going to love Mexico.” If Brian’s ninety-year-old mother was not afraid of drug lords, then neither was I.
Ten years ago, the thought of taking a vacation in the third world would have spun my neck into a knot. I booked family trips to South Carolina, where I diligently dug moats around sandcastles with my children. When I look back at a lifetime of vacation photographs, they look the same; a sunburned family on the beach by a castle, ignoring the impending doom of the incoming tide. Now, after a divorce, there is no husband, and the children are grown. I am alone. Call me crazy, but despite the warnings of friends, I decided to explore the Mayan Riviera with Jean’s family.
I wanted to come to Mexico to scuba dive. I wanted to see a Mayan ruin, and ask the question- if the Mayan calendar goes no further than 2012, what then? How long do we have before the end? I had spent my life preparing for catastrophe like a Girl Scout. I had an earthquake kit collecting dust in my garage and neatly folded emergency blankets in the trunk of my car. I had been caught off guard by the biggest tragedy of my life- the divorce. I would not be blindsided by the end of the world.
As I lounged in luxury on the beach in Playa, staring across twelve miles of turquoise water to the island of Cozumel, a foreboding feeling crawled across my arm like a tiny spider looking for a location to secure its web. I shivered and wrapped my blue towel tightly around my arms. Brian appeared. His freckles and pink flesh gave him a boyish look. He leaned his head back and with bright teeth, laughed. “Jean was up all night throwing up and with diarrhea.”
“Oh no,” I said. My stomach tightened at the thought of my own future on the terracotta bathroom floor.
“Don’t blame Mexico. Mom was sick the night before she flew in. We brought the bugs with us from New York. You’ll be next.”
“No, you’ll be next,” I responded with the enthusiasm of Donald Trump, but it had already happened. I had been cursed. I smelled salt, sunscreen, and French fries around me. I convinced myself that I was feeling nauseous. I decided to try and walk it off.
As I negotiated the narrow pathways through the labyrinth of lounge chairs, I listened to the endless beat of techno music that droned and droned from the nearby restaurant speakers. I was getting a headache. Thirty-five years ago, before the Cozumel Ferry crossed the channel for the first time, Playa del Carmen was a sleepy fishing village. Now waiters rushed through the sugary sand serving icy margaritas to the hundreds of thirsty tourists working on their tans. A bald man reclined in the blue shade of his umbrella. A tattooed maze circled his nipple and spilled over to his left arm, transforming his body into geometry. When he turned, I saw the stern eyes of a Maya face inked above his shoulder blade. I remembered the ancient prediction. 2012 was rapidly approaching. Those hypnotic eyes had hooked me like a carp. I had to tear myself away.
I concentrated on the pretty pink and yellow hotels that form a protective barrier like a Band-Aid between the bikinis on the beach and the town. There is an ordinance in Playa that no building can be taller than four stories. This enhances the seaside charm. I noticed three men gathering coconuts beneath a palm. They saw me watching their activity, stopped, and smiled with guilty grins. Perhaps it was against the law to take coconuts from the beach. I picked up my pace. They could be pickpockets, but then, my bathing suit had no pockets to pick. Behind them, in a sandy lot enclosed by a rusty wire fence, a small hut made from a tarp stood without apology. A sombrero hung from the packing crate door, and a water jug sat by the entrance. Towels dried on driftwood. A woman in a white masseuse outfit poked her head from the makeshift entrance. Is this how the Playa natives live? I felt guilty that hotel staff might be living beneath a painter’s drop cloth. I felt guilty that I had thought the worst of the coconut gatherers. I smiled at the three men and attempted, ”Buenos Dias,” but the words sounded wrong, and no one responded. I drifted on.
A short woman, maybe twenty or thirty, strolled toward me. She had sunburned freckles, and brown hair. I could hardly breathe. She looked like a young version of myself. She could have been plucked from my mother’s photo album. She smiled as she glided by. Did she have any idea that she has just seen her future self? I wanted to tell her that she and I were identical, but she was gone and the moment was lost.
At dinner that night, I told Brian and Jean about the young woman from the beach. Brian gulped his margarita and teased, “It was your doppelganger.”
“I bet you’re right,” I said.
“I wonder if she knew it,” said Jean.
‘Naw, they never do,” said Brian.
“So when did you become the expert on doppelgangers?” asked Jean.
“Oh everyone knows about doppelgangers. If a friend sees your doppelganger, you’re going to get sick. If you see your own doppelganger, it’s an omen of death.”
“Brian!” I said. Brian burst into laughter.
“Oh he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” said Jean.
“Oh yeah? What’s the chance that what you saw could have been your reflection?”
“None.”
“Then it was a sinister form of bilocation. A harbinger of bad luck. You’d better watch out.”
“Shut up Brian,” said Jean.
“Nice,” I said. The cafe table sat on the street. I pulled my chair as close as possible to the curb, hoping not to be hit by a car while eating. The restaurant owner presented us with a fresh pitcher of drinks while a three-piece mariachi band thrummed an off key Guantanamera in the corner of the room. All the diners looked down at their plates and secretly crossed their fingers that the skinny singers would stroll away to the next restaurant before having to dole out a tip. Only the owner clapped at the end of the song. My stomach gurgled, and I fondled the Imodium in my pocket.
That night, Brian’s curse came crushing down upon me. I held myself on the floor of my bathroom as tightly as a tourniquet, trying to stop the sea waves that slammed into my gut. I hallucinated on my doppelganger and saw tattooed eyes. Techno music drilled down my ear canal to the center of my brain. I thought of the Mayan calendar and decided that I did not want to live until 2012. Even though the printed sign above the toilet clearly stated- please do not flush toilet paper, I willfully broke the law. I flushed. I was too sick to care. When I emerged from my bathroom cocoon, Jean said that a full day and a half had fluttered by. It was another lazy beach morning, and the plan was to drive to Tulum.
Tulum was one of the last great Mayan cities. It is an hour south of Playa, and the southernmost point of the Mayan Riviera. Jean slowed our SUV as we passed a military checkpoint. Handsome camouflaged soldiers in sunglasses and flack jackets held machine guns and glared into our windows. I wasn’t nervous. I had survived the night. I was no longer worried about drug lords. I glanced at the neatly mowed grass by the side of the road as we sped up. The row of palm trees in the median was interspersed with large sculptures of seashells, angelfish, and dolphin. This highway hardly seemed the place to find a piece of an errant arm or a lone severed foot.
I leaned my head against the car window and peered at the passing beaches that nestled like nursery moons at the base of the coastal cliffs. The blue water formed the perfect palate for the red, green, and yellows dive boats that anchored near the shore. The world’s second largest coral reef begins here and extends all the way to Guatemala. I knew that exotic fish were waiting for a rendezvous just below the sea’s surface, and I dreamed of diving.
When we arrived at the Tulum archeological site, the man at the ticket booth gave us sage advice. “Without a guide, its just a bunch of rocks and a few iguanas.” What a sales pitch. We paid for an authentic Maya guide.
I laughed when we boarded the tractor tram, disguised to look like a steam locomotive that would take us to the once powerful Tulum. The city had been reduced to an old lion in a circus cage. I could see behind me rows of souvenir sombrero shacks, post card venders, and hammock hawkers. Before me, high above the Caribbean Sea on a cliff, beckoned the ancient ruins. With the exception of the tentacle-like roots of the Banyan trees that reach around and through the stones of the outer walls, the entrance stood as it had eight hundred years ago. Stones and roots now protected the Maya ghosts.
A cool wind rushed through a low passage that pierced the wall where our guide, Julio Cesar Villagomez Villalobos, stood waiting. His square face squinted into a broad smile, and he introduced himself in broken English. He proclaimed that, thanks to his grandmother, he was one quarter Maya. I asked our one-quarter Maya leader the question that had been puzzling me.
“Is it true? According to the Mayan calendar that we will all be dead at the end of next year?”
In a thick accent, he responded, “No. December 23, 2012 marks the end of a 5000-year cycle. The Maya olders have been waiting patient. The new cycle will begin. My friends, the new cycle will be positive. “
“So we aren’t going to die?”
“No, my friend. When the Milky Way and the solar system have a cosmic cross in the sky, a new time will begin. We celebrate.”
In a silly way, I felt relieved. I enjoyed strolling through the remnants of rock foundations adorned with green orchids. Chubby columned temples tilted like drippy sand castles looming above the palms trees. Rectangular doorways waited for the solstice light to pierce their darkness and reveal some cosmic secret. Julio flipped his charts with enthusiasm, while I watched stone colored iguana sun like tiny dinosaurs on grinding stones. Julio discussed every rock in Tulum. He pointed to the top of a looming temple staircase where prisoners were sacrificed. Souls had died here. The wind blew up from the sea, and we stood in respectful silence. At the king’s palace, Julio pointed to a relief carving on a lintel above a doorway. “My friend, this is the Diving God.”
“Hey, that’s my god. I am a scuba diver.”
He continued, “It could also be a bee.”
I stared at the carved winged man. “No. It’s not an insect. Definitely a man.”
“My friend, honey was important to the Maya.”
“Maybe so, but it looks like a man diving straight down.”
“The Diving God comes from heaven. He descends to the underworld through the waters of sacred sinkholes knows as cenotes. My friend, this is how the Maya enter the afterlife. Very holy. Very important to make sacrifices to the cenote.”
“Were people sacrificed?” I asked.
“Yes, my friend, many people.”
The world’s largest system of underground rivers is found on the Yucatan Peninsula. These subterranean rivers were the only source of fresh water for the Maya people. In two days I would leave for home. I knew that I had one final thing to accomplish before I left Mexico. I needed to make my sacrifice to the sacred sinkhole by diving a cenote.
However, I was concerned. I was pushing the eighteen-hour no fly limit, the hard, fast rule to prevent the bends. I was weak and dehydrated from my illness. I emailed a friend who was a scuba expert and asked his opinion of diving the cenote. My friend’s response was immediate. No single dive was worth it. I considered his warning. I remembered my doppelganger.
“What are you so worried about?” asked Brian. “Nothing’s going to happen to you. You aren’t going to get bent.”
“But I am…” and I listed off a litany of excuses for not going under.
“It’s incredible down there. Are you crazy? You don’t want to miss it.” Brian was right. I was tired of missing things. What the hell? I had never gone into an underwater cave. I would be brave. I called a dive shop and arranged my trip.
My dive master, Pierre Claver, was from France but had fallen in love with Mexico. He had moved to the Yucatan with his girlfriend. She had left, but he was in love again. This time with a cenote. He had planned our dive at Cenote Chac Mool, south of Tulum.
“Chac Mool means The Thundering Paw. The entrance to this cenote is in the shape of a jaguar’s paw. It’s one of my favorites.”
The parking lot was as still as a chapel. I could sense that this was a holy place. I could feel the spirit of a spotted jaguar with padded paws watching from the underbrush. I breathed in the jungle air. I needed to become the jaguar.
“Hola,” Pierre called to leathery man in a white shirt standing in the distance. “He is my friend. He is teaching me Mayan.” Pierre bounded across the parking lot for a brief conversation. “Today’s word is polok. It means fat. I now know nohache polok pek. That means big, fat dog. I also know Mich ba, which means, I am doing good.”
“Mich ba,” I said. I was weak and tired, but I breathed a jaguar breath. Pierre bubbled on about cave diving.
“We have come here early to see the halocline. You’ll see why. It’s magic.”
In a cenote, the halocline is the horizontal plane where salt water meets fresh water. Once divers flip their fins through the juncture of the two layers, visibility is blurred. Pierre wanted me to be the first diver of the day, so that I could experience the halocline without distortion.
“After we put on our equipment, we’ll go down about twelve feet to equalize.”
“Twelve feet?” I looked at the shallow water puddles that covered the rocks at the entrance. “That water is no deeper than eighteen inches.”
“The fresh water is so clear, you can see for 200 feet. It’s an optical illusion here.”
And so it was. I had never seen clearer water. We submerged and followed yellow ropes that marked our pathway through a horizontal world of boulders, stalactites, stalagmites, and fossils. We passed from cave to cave, swimming between massive rock slabs and toward diagonal bands of light that flooded the caverns. The clarity of the water played tricks with the reflections of the jungle foliage above, washing the water in turquoise and bright green. I felt as if I was swimming against an aquarium backdrop. Where there was no light from above, the cave was dark and still. There was no current, no fish, no movement of any kind other than our own bubbles and fins. We were in the underworld, and my fascination replaced any fear.
We reached a cave where an air pocket had formed. We surfaced and without the aid of regulators breathed the ancient cave oxygen. Banyan roots drilled through the top of the limestone ceiling, forming golden columns worthy of a gothic cathedral; columns created without stonemason or priest. We floated alone on the surface of a black lake, our flashlights illuminating the stalactites around us.
“Wow,” my voice echoed.
“Wait to you see the halocline,” said Pierre, and down we went again. I was the Diving God descending. I was swimming in a timeless darkness. We passed a painted sign at the opening to another cave. My light illuminated a skull and crossed bones, and a warning that 300 deaths had occurred in the next cave. Sacrifices to the cenote. More souls for the underworld. We swam away following our guide ropes. I was the jaguar. This was not my day to die.
When we reached the halocline, our three-dimensional world changed. In water so clear that it seemed like air, I could see the flat plane that divided the salt and fresh layers. I envisioned someone stretching a film of plastic wrap in the middle of my vision. It seemed impossible, but I could see in two-dimensions. As we swam through the halocline, the rocks became a cataract blur. I stayed closed to Pierre’s light, the firefly leading me back to transparent water. We swam to the cenote entrance where the jungle shimmered in green from above. We surfaced like turtles, leaving the silent underworld behind.
Back in the parking lot, I saw Pierre’s Mayan teacher bend over to pick up cement chunks and place them in his rusty wheelbarrow. I felt sorry for such an old man struggling under such a heavy load.
“Does he make much money?” I asked.
“He is a wealthy man,” said Pierre. “He is the owner. Look at his car over there.”
Parked under a carport was new silver Toyota minivan. “In the land reform, the cenotes were given to the Maya.“
I smiled and reminded myself that things are not always what they seem. As we drove away from the cenote, Pierre remarked, “I think I know a place to rent near here. It’s a simple one room house with a hammock and a solar panel for power.” His eyes looked toward the jungle. “It’s away from people, and it has its own cenote behind the house. I could dive every day.”
“You could have your own entrance to the underworld.” We smiled and nodded in silence. We headed to Playa, and the next day I flew back to New York.

Not everyone can live his passion. In the Yucatan, Pierre discovered that his paradise lies in the jungle, at the entrance to the underworld. Jean and Brian know that their retreat is found on the Mayan Riviera, where life is slow, and the water is turquoise blue. And it is here that I found the answer to my question. The answer clung to the windy cliffs of Tulum. It floated in the still water of the cenote. We really don’t know when our lives will end. It’s not about dying. It’s about living. I think of my doppelganger and wish her the heart of a jaguar for every adventure that lies before her as she strolls along the Caribbean Sea and beyond. That’s the best we can do. Mich ba

Monday, May 2, 2011

Water in Africa

Not in a rush like a river,
but in dribbles from a protruding pipe,
orange
liquid
drips.

Invisible flatworms
pulse in puddles,
and in cross-hatched rice fields
mosquitoes
and malaria
grow.

Silent children fill bottles-
drop
by
drop.
This is what they do
each day.

I wear clothes labeled for
the clear Columbia,
but
in my pocket are faces
from a valley of clay.